In 1953, House & Home magazine crowed, "The kitchen is losing one of its four walls." Ensuing decades have unleashed a regular Jericho, to the point where I have a hard time recalling a custom-built house whose kitchen is not integrated into the living area, its walk-around island the Corian (or stainless, or marble) Mecca of family and friends.
Growing up, I didn’t know anyone with a great room. Our mothers disappeared into smallish, constrained spaces—–fitted cabinetry above, linoleum underfoot, appliances cheek-to-jowl on the counter—–and emerged sometime later to announce "Dinner!" (Multiple times, with increasing decibel levels.) Today, the kitchen holds such allure, I have to browbeat guests to move down to the sofa after dinner.
As early as the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright dubbed the kitchen the "workroom" of the house, and created airy, open-plan designs for House Willey and House Jacobs. The rest of the country caught up about 50 years later, just as women were fleeing hearth and home for the workplace. The larger living area encouraged quality family time, while the perfection of the extractor hood kept the smell of the fish from wafting.
In this, the golden age of Gordon, Emeril, and Padma, cooking is a spectator sport, and the kitchen is our stage—–even if, sadly, the family is more frequently focused on the microwave than the gleaming range beside it. Many of us spend more time perusing tile samples than learning how to roast a chicken—–and I’m guilty of believing that a new set of All-Clad cookware might have a magically osmotic effect on my culinary skills. (It didn’t.)
This is when we might heed German graphic design visionary Otl Aicher, author of The Kitchen Is for Cooking, who wrote: "The kitchen is a function of man’s social nature. Cooking is only a pleasure when others join in eating. And cooking is even more of a pleasure if others join in the cooking." And all the design genius in the world is not going to get that fresh fish into the frying pan, or those well-scrubbed potatoes into the oven.
Contributing editor Deborah Bishop approached "Kitchen Design 101" with keen interest, as she is currently plotting her own kitchen renovation. "Having read and been told that this is the most important room in the house- and seeing such an array of aesthetic approaches- I am now effectively paralyzed," confesses Bishop, even though her culinary triumphs tend, at best, toward toast and French-press coffee.